Ravensthorpe Nickel Mine
Ravensthorpe Nickel Operations is a nickel mine and hydrometallurgical processing plant located 550 kilometres (340 mi) southeast of Perth, and 35 kilometres (22 mi) east of Ravensthorpe, Western Australia at Bandalup Hill.
Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation plant at night.
Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation
Location in Australia
|Products||Mixed nickel-cobalt hydroxide|
|Production||23,624 nickel contained tonnes|
|Company||First Quantum Minerals|
|Website||First Quantum website|
|Year of acquisition||2010|
Ravensthorpe cost BHP Billiton US$2.2 billion to build but led to $3.6 billion in write-downs when it was shut down in January 2009, after less than a year of operation. The closure caused considerable bad publicity for the owner, prompting the operation to be placed on the market. The mine was sold in December 2009 to First Quantum Minerals for US$340 million.
First Quantum Minerals successfully returned the operation to commercial production in December 2011, after 18 months of modifications and re-commissioning. Following a period of low nickel prices, the operation was placed on care and maintenance in October 2017, with the loss of 270 local jobs.
Mining in Ravensthorpe considerably predates the current nickel mine, with gold discoveries dating back to 1898. The town experienced a down turn after the First World War but mining for copper continued up until the 1970s. A railway line connected Ravensthorpe with the port of Hopetoun from 1901 to 1925, when the line was closed.
The project was approved in 2004 and construction commenced shortly afterward. The plant known as the Ravensthorpe Nickel Project was commissioned in late 2007 with first production occurring in October and the first 5,000 tonnes being produced by December 2007. The plant was officially opened in 2008, after massive cost blow outs and delays. Production was expected to total 50,000 tonnes of nickel per year.
In January 2009, BHP Billiton announced that it was suspending production at Ravensthorpe Nickel Operations indefinitely, due to the reduction in world nickel prices caused by the global economic crisis. The decision cut 1,800 jobs and was expected to have a major impact on the local economy. Nickel prices, having reached a high of US$50,000 per tonne in May 2007, had fallen to under $11,000 per tonne by the time of the mines closure. The closure had a devastating effect on the local communities of Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun and led to BHP Billiton being heavily criticised for its handling of the closure.
On 9 December 2009, BHP Billiton sold the operation to Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals for US$340 million. First Quantum was one of three bidders for the mine and actually produced the lowest offer. First Quantum won the bid despite offers from Minara Resources at US$360 million and Poseidon Nickel at US$400 million being higher than theirs. BHP Billiton said that the lower price was accepted due to fewer conditions being imposed by the tenderer. First Quantum announced the completion of the acquisition on 10 February 2010.
Modifications and recommissioning
First Quantum Minerals spent eighteen months implementing extensive modifications to improve the ore processing at the front end of the plant, through the construction of two new crushers, new product storage ponds and a new dewatering facility. Recommissioning began in the second quarter of 2011, with first nickel produced in October 2011. Problems BHP faced in the crushing, beneficiation and rejects plants were successfully resolved.
The project comprises five ore bodies, Halleys, Hale-Bopp, Shoemaker-Levy, Nindilbillup and Shoemaker-Levy North, with total proven and probable reserves of 197.2 million tonnes at a grade of 0.6% nickel and 0.03% cobalt (at 31 December 2017). Shoemaker-Levy, the largest ore body, contains 88% of the reserves.
First Quantum expected an annual production of 39,000 tonnes of nickel for the first five years of production and an average of 28,000 tonnes per year for the mine's projected lifetime of 32 years. The operation was placed on care and maintenance in October 2017 due to sustained nickel prices below the cost of production.
Commercial production by First Quantum Minerals was achieved on 28 December 2011. The operation produced 32,884 tonnes of nickel in its first full year of operation in 2012. BHP Billiton, by comparison, produced 14,000 tonnes of nickel from the operation in the nine months the plant operated from its opening in May 2009 before it was mothballed. Citing extended low nickel prices, First Quantum Minerals placed the plant in care and maintenance on 1 Oct 2017, and most of the staff was made redundant. A small team of maintenance personnel continued to keep the site up. In April 2019 the owner announced that "should market conditions continue to improve, Ravensthorpe could resume operations in the first quarter of 2020."
In the last full year of operation (2016) the mine produced 23,624 contained tonnes of nickel (17,630 payable tonnes) at a cash cost of US$4.66 per lb (total cost of US$6.34 per lb). The average LME nickel price for 2016 was US$4.36 per lb. Production for 2015 was 26,667 contained tonnes (20,567 payable tonnes) of nickel.
Atmospheric leach tank collapse
On 14 December 2014 a structural failure was caused by corrosion of an atmospheric leach tank's wall, with the subsequent spill contained in the plant’s bunded, or protected, area. Nearly 2 megalitres (2,000 m3) of acidic slurry exited the tank and displaced several transformers and inundated electrical substations and steam turbine generators. Operations at the plant were suspended by the Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum. The accident closed the mine for 49 days. The plant operator pleaded guilty to failing to supply a safe working environment and received a fine of A$40,000.
- BHP offloads Ravensthorpe nickel mine Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Ninemsn.com.au, published: 9 December 2009, accessed: 10 December 2009
- Canada's First Quantum wins bid to revive Ravensthorpe nickel mine The Australian, published: 10 December 2009, accessed: 10 December 2009
- Slater, Tim (15 March 2012), "Mine a quantum leap for Ravy", The Kalgoorlie Miner, 15 March 2012
- Attwood, James; Stringer, David (10 August 2017). "WA's Ravensthorpe mine closes on low nickle price, threatening 300 jobs". WAToday. Perth, WA: Fairfax Media. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Mining Archived 12 November 2009 at the Wayback Machine Shire of Ravensthorpe website, accessed: 10 December 2009
- Hopetoun The Sydney Morning Herald, published: 8 February 2004, accessed: 10 December 2009
- "BHP Sustainability Report - Relationship building". 2005. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2009.
- "BHP Billiton - Nickel West". 2008. Retrieved 15 September 2008.
- "Sydney Morning Herald - BHP ready for laterite challenge". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 May 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2009.
- Mining job losses escalate as BHP Billiton cuts 6000 The Australian, 21 January 2009
- BHP Ravensthorpe nickel mine on brink of closure Perth.now.com.au, published: 18 January 2009, accessed: 10 December 2009
- Ravensthorpe nickel mine sale ABC News, published: 10 December 2009, accessed: 10 December 20
- First Quantum announcement on the purchase of the mine Archived 17 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine published: 9 December 2009, accessed: 10 December 2009
- First Quantum Minerals Announces Finalization of the Acquisition of the Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation, Western Australia Archived 17 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine First Quantum news releases, published: 10 February 2010, accessed: 4 June 2010
- Piper, Dominic (April 2012). "Ravensthorpe: From white elephant to resurrection". Australia's Paydirt.
- Fitzgerald, Barry (10 November 2011). "First Quantum in Nickel coup". The West Australian.
- "Reserves & Resources". Vancouver, BC: First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- "First Quantum Minerals Reports Operational and Financial Results for the Three Months and Year Ended December 31, 2011". Vancouver, BC: First Quantum Minerals Ltd. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- First Quantum Minerals Announces 2012 Production and 2013 Outlook published by First Quantum Minerals, 28 February 2013
- First Quantum Minerals Announces 2012 Production and 2013 Outlook
- Chambers, Matt. "High-achieving First Quantum chief Philip Pascall keeps a low profile". The Australian. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- McKinnon, Stuart (1 May 2019). "Ravensthorpe nickel mine readied for restart as prices rise". The West Australian. Perth, WA. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- "2016 Annual Report" (pdf). First Quantum Minerals Ltd. 28 March 2017. p. 22. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Bell, Stephen (15 December 2015). "WA's Ravensthorpe nickel mine shut after chemical spill". The Australian. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- Topf, Andrew (2 January 2017). "First Quantum dinged $40,000 for sulphuric acid spill at nickel mine". Mining.com. Retrieved 11 May 2019.